Background: Wood-feeding insects often work in collaboration with microbial symbionts to degrade lignin biopolymers and release glucose and other fermentable sugars from recalcitrant plant cell wall carbohydrates, including cellulose and hemicellulose. Here, we present the midgut transcriptome of larval Anoplophora glabripennis, a wood-boring beetle with documented lignin-, cellulose-, and hemicellulose- degrading capabilities, which provides valuable insights into how this insect overcomes challenges associated with feeding in woody tissue. Results: Transcripts from putative protein coding regions of over 9,000 insect-derived genes were identified in the A. glabripennis midgut transcriptome using a combination of 454 shotgun and Illumina paired-end reads. The most highly-expressed genes predicted to encode digestive-related enzymes were trypsins, carboxylesterases, β-glucosidases, and cytochrome P450s. Furthermore, 180 unigenes predicted to encode glycoside hydrolases (GHs) were identified and included several GH 5, 45, and 48 cellulases, GH 1 xylanases, and GH 1 β-glucosidases. In addition, transcripts predicted to encode enzymes involved in detoxification were detected, including a substantial number of unigenes classified as cytochrome P450s (CYP6B) and carboxylesterases, which are hypothesized to play pivotal roles in detoxifying host tree defensive chemicals and could make important contributions to A. glabripennis’ expansive host range. While a large diversity of insect-derived transcripts predicted to encode digestive and detoxification enzymes were detected, few transcripts predicted to encode enzymes required for lignin degradation or synthesis of essential nutrients were identified, suggesting that collaboration with microbial enzymes may be required for survival in woody tissue. Conclusions: A. glabripennis produces a number of enzymes with putative roles in cell wall digestion, detoxification, and nutrient extraction, which likely contribute to its ability to thrive in a broad range of host trees. This system is quite different from the previously characterized termite fermentation system and provides new opportunities to discover enzymes that could be exploited for cellulosic ethanol biofuel production or the development of novel methods to control wood-boring pests. Electronic supplementary material: The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-850) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.